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Toward the Biofunctional Embodiment of Understanding

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Like the nonembodied cognitive science of the 1970s, today’s mushrooming embodied cognition has entered the phase of widespread controversy. A close look at the interdisciplinary literature shows that the field is caught in the grips of a multiple-horn puzzle. One outstanding horn of this puzzle, captured ...

Like the nonembodied cognitive science of the 1970s, today’s mushrooming embodied cognition has entered the phase of widespread controversy. A close look at the interdisciplinary literature shows that the field is caught in the grips of a multiple-horn puzzle. One outstanding horn of this puzzle, captured well in two excellent reviews by Margaret Wilson (2002) and Christian Gärtner (2013), relates to the many meanings of the term embodiment. Wilson identified six, four evaluated as least-partially true, one most problematic, and one least investigated but most promising. Gärner’s conclusion was similar: “So far, scholars often only identified the different aspects of cognition, knowing and learning in organizations … but it is hardly understood how they relate to each other.” The second horn of the puzzle, sticking out even more, pertains to what embodiment means as a metaphor for the biofunctional body for which it presumably stands, albeit most indirectly. The answer must explain the conclusions of the two hard-earned reviews. The common claim is that embodiment refers to the interaction between the body and the environment. Wilson’s six views were about situation, time, off-loading cognition to environment, in-loading environment to mind, action, and sensorimotor, of which only the last is body-based. The rest, if not all, beat around the bush of the physical body rather than biting the bullet of getting involved with how it functions. The last horn, and perhaps the most outstanding, is that the embodied cognition movement assumes that knowledge is the one standard intellectual capacity in terms of which all intellectual functioning must run. For example, a remarkable void in embodied cognition is the tragic neglect of the intellectual capacity of understanding and its development. What is even more tragic is that it has been known since late 1970s that embodied understanding, in the biofunctional sense, is the prerequisite capacity without which cognition cannot possibly occur just as without the prerequisite biofunctional respiration no breathing can occur. How understanding capacity is a prerequisite for cognitive functioning is the subject of one of the articles in this volume in the company of about nine other themes.


There are many exceptions to the puzzling state of the art in today’s embodied cognition minus the biological body. One exception Gärner titled intelligible embodiment inclusive of the works of Lakoff, Johnson, Rosch, Varela, and others. A second is the area of biofunctional understanding under consideration here inspired by the classic work of Weiss, Head, and Bartlett and leading contemporary philosophers like Prawat, Pierce, Dewey, James. Third is the growing body of evidence in neuroscience, embodied musical understanding, tourism as a biofunctional-understanding journey, sports experience, and language comprehension/production all relying directly on the functioning of the nervous and bodily systems. Finally, there is the realm of learning sciences led especially by the remarkable research of Bransford and colleagues. We encourage interested investigators to embrace and delve into these areas going after the worthy cause of biofunctional foundations of understanding in order to make this research topic of this ebook the stunning volume it has capacity to become.


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